by Henry Lane Hull
On the morning of May 31st I shaved, not an unusual experience, save for the fact that I have not shaved since that day. The following day, I rose, showered dressed and my Good Wife and I prepared to take the Younger B.E. to the airport for her trip to Italy to study Italian for the summer at Siena. Rushing to get off, I realized I had not shaved. The B.E. said, “Don’t shave. We have to leave.” Thus began the saga of my current beard.
I have grown beards several times over the course of my adulthood, but this time the effort, or more properly “non-effort,” has generated exceptional comment over the last few months. I first grew a beard on the occasion of the nation’s bicentennial. At the time a colleague said that historians are always behind the times and that I appeared more to be celebrating the centennial than the bicentennial.
That beard was dark brown; this one is slightly less pigmented, unless one considers white, not to mention gray, to be a pigment, although the current sideburns can pass for, shall we say, sandy. The white part is not sufficient for me to play Santa Claus, a role already locally in the possession of my friends John Farmer and Lee Scripture.
With this beard, more than with others I have grown, I have found that nearly everyone I encounter is compelled to offer comments. I have categorized the reactions and responses into a variety of compartments. Clean-shaven men with crew cuts do not like it and offer their impressions ranging from displeasure to shock, the most common remark being, “What’s that on your face?” as if I had not used my napkin while eating a soft boiled egg at breakfast. More genteel refrains are less aggressive, usually coming from gentlemen of a more libertarian streak.
Fellow beard growers have been enthusiastic in welcoming me to their fraternity. They seem to be grateful that now they have a new colleague to absorb some of the ubiquitous comments that they must be receiving every day. They have made me think of myself as truly one of the flock.
Ladies are divided into two distinct groups; they either hate it or love it. The latter party frequently are the spouses of men with facial hair. The most pervasive is “I really like your beard,” to which I reply thanking them for their kind observation. To those ladies who proclaim, “I never thought YOU would grow a beard,” I reply, “It grows on you.” The most extreme of that party do not say anything, but merely shake their heads in disbelief, without any verbal acknowledgement of the beard’s existence.
This beard has caused me to reflect on some of the basic elements of psychology. It has enabled me to offer advice to any gentleman who might think that the world ignores him, or to any introvert who wishes he could be more out-going in dealing with others, to any shy wallflower who is reluctant to start a conversation with anyone, not to mention a lady. That advice is summed up in three words, grow a beard.
Even people one does not know will be compelled to open a conversation, whether passing in the grocery store, at church, or in line at an airport. A beard is a great leveling device that cuts through the red tape of formalities and establishes a gentleman on a one-on-one basis with everyone he encounters. Granted, one must be prepared for the negativity expressed by some, but is not negativity better than a void of silence?
After almost six months I still am unable to gauge my Good Wife’s thoughts on the subject. When asked by others what she thinks of it, she tends to hedge her reaction, usually saying, “A beard is all right if it is kept neatly.” For my part I am thinking of the many hours of free time I have had away from the sink, razor and shaving cream. I also am considering how I shall spend or invest the money saved in the process of not purchasing shaving accouterments. In that vein, perhaps the beard is here to stay.